JDP senior Olivia

Blog followers may remember softball phenom JDP senior Olivia’s Sweet & Sassy 16 portraits almost 3 years ago.  I had the pleasure of working with her again as she is preparing to graduate from Oldfields next month.  She’ll join her sisters as they process through the picturesque grounds, in their white dresses, for commencement.  She’s still just as passionate about softball and headed to Lesley University this fall to play ball.

Olivia’s journey towards graduation and playing ball in college has been one of dizzying highs and lows. Although she’s had her eyes on the prize her whole childhood, and put the training in required to achieve her dreams, over the last few years it was not looking like it was going to be her reality.  She suffered from on-going health issues spanning 7 years.  Migraines, dizzy spells, pain in her arm and neck…these are just a few of the symptoms that at times left her sidelined from the game she loved…and her life. 

She bounced around from specialist to specialist, for 7 years. Their responses ranged from baffled, or worse, misdiagnosis.  She heard she “grew too quickly”, she should “quit because sports aren’t that important,” she was told she was “making this up because she you didn’t want to play,” she should “just stick to schoolwork.”  Easy to say if you aren’t a driven athlete.

These voices kept her up at night, accompanied by numbing pain that became her constant companion. Olivia figured out ways to play through the pain, because she’s a serious athlete and that’s what serious athletes do. But Olivia also knew she was falling apart. The pain was real and there was nothing she could do to stop it. If she were to name it, she would have called it DEFEAT. “When you feel like you’ve lost control of your body, your mind begins to take over.”

She became her worst enemy, hearing misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, made her doubt herself. Her self-confidence vacated and self-loathing took up residence in her mind. She sat in dark rooms to avoid throbbing migraines and meanwhile the misdiagnosis rang in her ears, causing her to question everything to her core. Life continued around her and she wanted nothing more than to be a part of it.

Was she wrong, could this be all in her mind? She felt the stranglehold of insanity grabbing at her.  She knew she was in pain and that pain was real. She became numb to the hamster wheel of trying to figure out what was wrong. She was accustomed to negative scans and became very good at going through the motions, just to get back into bed at the end of the day, while everyone else was living life. She wanted to feel normal, but that was elusive despite her best efforts and constant Advil.

Deep within her, Olivia knows that sometimes things have you have to fall apart so they can be rebuilt.  Olivia was a kid who thrived on taking things apart to see how they could be made whole again. The process intrigued her; the hidden becoming known was something she pursued. Olivia has realized in her life, this same principle applies. Sometimes you have to take things apart to put them back together.

Olivia will never forget the doctor who put things back together for her. In August of 2016, her PT recommended she see a hand specialist. She had no reason to believe this doctor appointment would be any different from all the other disappointing ones, but she half heartily obliged. The doctor took her arm, raised it up high and watched as her hand, all the way down her arm, to the back of her neck went blue. “There’s no pulse in your right arm,” he told her. How was that possible Olivia wondered? I’m a living being, how could part of me not have a pulse? 

The tide was shifting and she could feel it.  DEFEAT had a name and was being revealed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The doctor began to tick off symptoms of TOS: fatigue, neck/back pain, blurry vision, light sensitivity, shoulder pain, numbness…Olivia’s brain checked off every single symptom.  She was intimately acquainted with each and every one, for the past 7 years.  Olivia’s symptoms were caused by blood vessels or nerves in the space between her collarbone and first rib (thoracic outlet) being compressed.

Olivia’s case would require surgery to repair the damage. They had to remove her first rib to create blood flow back into arm and back of head. The surgery was supposed to take 4 hours, instead it took 7 hours. It took 3 doctors to get the rib out and they said it was the worst case they had ever seen. Her doctor didn’t know how Olivia had been functioning for so long like this. He told her family that they were to be especially grateful that she has not died from a blood clot to her brain or heart while this was being missed.

Post surgery, it was like the reset button was pressed on Olivia’s life. She is convinced that the hard patch she endured has made her a stronger person who has grown in character as a result. She has found the positive from the negative that threatened to steal her joy.  She’s been back in the gym and on the field daily to rebuild her strength and play the game she loves.

She has a scar on her clavicle that is a badge of courage and triumph for her.  It reminds her daily that her strength in spirit and determination should never be underestimated through her life.  It reminds her of the people who stood by her side through her lowest points and never gave up on her or pursuing answers to the questions that plagued her daily.  It reminds her that when being tested through the fires, she will come out on the other side.

Olivia’s tenacity and strong will have prevailed and meant a triumphant return to playing softball competitively after a surgery which is very rare to find athletes competitive again.  She has worked tenaciously to rebuild strength and power and what a joy it was to create portraits for her that celebrate this incredible accomplishment.  You rock Olivia and I can’t wait to hear what awaits you on your journey ahead!

Just one of the ways Olivia’s family will enjoy her portraits in their home:

  1. Chuck Grillo says:

    Good for you honey. This is what comes of lasting it out. I’m happy for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *